An inside view of Pandora’s ad production

Monday, November 11, 2013 - 12:20pm

Greg Cutler is a voice-over actor and producer who has been creating audio ads for Pandora since 2011. After a decade in radio (1981-1991), and taking a break for non-profit activities, Cutler returned to voice work in 2001. He operates a home audio studio with a whisper booth and digital recording/editing.

Cutler became involved in Pandora through the Internet’s version of cold calling. “I contacted Pandora by email,” he told RAIN. “Nothing happened right away, but six months later I got a reply saying, ‘You’re one of the voices we’d like to use.’ Suddenly I was producing spots for clients all over the country.

Cutler told us he has made over 100 ads for Pandora, at a pace of three to ten a month. We asked him for a glimpse into the Pandora realm -- specifically, how the company commissions and produces its commercials. We were also interest in the balance of local and national ad spots that Cutler has produced, in light of Pandora’s aggressive build-out of local sales offices. (RAIN coverage here.)

RAIN: Is Pandora a direct client?

GC: They are a direct client, and I am an independent contractor working at home. The days of going to studios and recording with the artistic director, and production guys, and six people watching over your performance, have dwindled.

RAIN: How does the direction work? Do you send multiple takes, and is there some back-and-forth?

GC: With Pandora in particular, they send me an order, with instructions for the type of [acting] delivery they’re looking for. They might say they want it to be upbeat, or subdued, or neutral and professional. It’s one-line direction. They’ll give me pronunciation keys and a link where you can hear pronunciation of a locale or somebody’s name. It is three takes per commercial. It can be 15 seconds, thirty seconds, or just a tagline. I get paid the same, regardless of length, and there’s a graduated scale for additional takes or extra tags.

Once I’m done, I separate the takes into individual files and send them [online]. I don’t have to do any treatment to the audio [after recording]. They do that at Pandora -- they have [in-house] audio producers. I’ve worked with about 10 of them. If I’m lucky, the producer will say, “That’s great,” and I get a notification that the spot has been approved. I send an invoice through Pandora’s invoicing system, and they pay with direct deposit.

In terms of direction, they’ll sometimes come back and ask for it to be re-done in a different way. I’ve been lucky. Maybe two out of ten times what I send isn’t right. I think Pandora is very tuned into the needs of their clients.

Pandora seems to have increased its number of audio producers. I don’t know where these people are, whether they’re working in their homes or in a central office. But the number of people who handle the audio after I’m done has increased. They have all been sensational people to work with. That’s my only interaction with the company, and I think Pandora likes it that way.

RAIN: Do you hear your spots on Pandora?

GC: I do. I’ve never asked them whether they’ve placed my voice outside of my own market, but I get a sense that they do. I’ve done things for the west coast, like the San Francisco Symphony. I’ve done spots for VISA Signature, Fandango theaters, Mazda. When the spots run nationally, people I know sometimes call up and say, “I think I just heard you on Pandora.” I’ve done a lot of universities all over the country.

RAIN: Do you have a sense of how many of your spots are local compared to national? Do you do more local copy, or more national copy?

GC: Again, I’m an independent contractor, so I don’t have access to their information, and I’m not speaking for Pandora, just for myself. But it seems to me that I’m doing more of local. I don’t know if that’s because of my shortcomings! Some of [the spots] have national scope, but many are hyper-localized. I do a lot of MBA spots for different universities, for example.

RAIN: How fast do you have to work?

GC: It’s usually 24 hours. I’ve done over a hundred spots, and about five have asked for [shorter] turnaround of two or three hours. Pandora is a fantastic client. What they get from me is quick turnaround. Unless I’m on vacation, I’m available to them pretty much all the time. If it’s a Sunday morning, and somebody says, “Can you do this?” -- I’ll do it. The orders come in at all sorts of crazy times.

RAIN: Is working with Pandora different from working with non-Internet based clients?

GC: It’s nimble and fast. My other clients -- we spend much more time. They might rely on me to come up with some of the creative, or I might have input on copy. Or, there’s more time on the phone receiving direction. Pandora uses a numbering system [to keep track of its produced commercials]. When I started in 2011, the numbers were small -- it might have been in the 099 range. Now, the number is 29,000. I don’t know if it’s a whole new system, but if the numbering is sequential, they’ve got to be going gangbusters. Having talent that can turn spots around quickly is a benefit to their advertisers.

RAIN: Do you work with any other streaming platforms?

GC. No. I tried to get in touch with Spotify. They use a lot of national spots, and they seem to have an in-house person who does Spotify promos. I reached out to them as I did with Pandora, and I never heard back.

RAIN: Are you a Pandora One [paid] subscriber?

GC: I’m not, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to be. The only reason I’m not is that I want to hear myself! [Pandora One subscribers do not hear commercials.]

Pandora’s October audience metrics vs. the recent study of iTunes Radio threat

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 11:50am

Pandora released disclosed its audience metrics for October last night (see RAIN coverage here). The much-watched measurement of “active listeners” slipped 2.5% from September, from 72.7-million to 70.9-million. That metric is significant for the first full month in which Pandora and iTunes Radio operated concurrently. We wanted to circle back with Michael Graham of Cannacord Genuity, who authored a study of the near-term threat that iTunes Radio posed to Pandora. (See our original interview here.) Graham predicted that Pandora risked losing one percent of its listeners to iTunes Radio.

This morning we asked Graham how the just-released October numbers match up with the research prediction. His response: 

We were a little surprised by how many active listeners we lost, but were also surprised by how strong the listening hours were. The drop-off in listeners is more than we estimated might happen. The part we didn’t predict is this: [Pandora] lost a large number of low-engagement iOS users who, we believe, were added more recently, then decided to try iTunes Radio. We believe this because the average number of hours per active listener expanded sharply, from 18.8 during September to 20.5 during October. Part of that can be explained by the listener cap on mobile coming off. But the bigger part is likely that the listeners who went over to iTunes Radio were low-hours listeners. We believe that the overall number of listening hours is in good shape."

A research note from Cannacord Genuity in response to Pandora’s metrics also mentions non-iOS Pandora use: “We are somewhat surprised at the 1.8 million sequential decline in active listeners. That said, we believe growth from Android listeners was strong, and we believe the company may be seeing some stabilization on the iOS side already.”

(Graham is an analyst for the investment firm Cannacord Genuity, and he discloses that the company is bullish on Pandora. Research on this topic supports the company’s Buy recommendation.)

Pandora grew audience share in October, dropped listeners

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 11:50am

Pandora released its internal audience metrics for October, in a Morgan Stanley conference late today in San Francisco. Pandora CFO Michael Herring presented the October results. The October report carries special significance inasmuch as it represents the first full month of iTunes Radio operating in competition with Pandora.

Pandora’s monthly metrics report contains three key indicators:

  • Share of total U.S. radio listening
  • Number of hours of music consumed
  • Number of active users

In October, Pandora’s reported listening share in the U.S. rose to 8.06 percent from a September share of 7.77 percent.

There was also month-over-month growth in consumed hours, from 1.36-billion hours in September top 1.47-billion in October.

The much-discussed “active users” measure dropped in October from the previous month, settling at 70.9-million users, a 2.5% drop from September’s 72.7-million figure. The share of U.S. radio listening measurement is controversial in the radio industry, and has been disputed by industry executives. When RAIN asked Pandora about the methodology of the share-of-listening metric, we received this reply:

"Pandora arrives at this calculation using data from Triton Digital, Arbitron and the U.S. Census. The estimated total hours include satellite radio. There is no one group that measures total radio metrics. We welcome all third-party research from a variety of established partners, including Triton Digital, Edison Research, The Media Audit, comScore and Nielsen. Ultimately, we would like to see all radio measured side-by-side."

Internet listening flat in September; year-over-year growth

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 11:50am

Triton Digital released its Webcast Metrics Top 20 Ranker for September yesterday, revealing that Internet listening among Triton's top-20 clients was sequentially flat from August. (iTunes Radio, which began operating during September, has not been announced as a Triton client.) Looking at Average Active Sessions (AAS) as the guiding metric, we see a statistical dead heat in cumulative listening to the top-20 list.

Within the ranking, the best nominal month-over-month success belonged to market leader Pandora, which gained nearly 24,000 average active sessions. In percentage terms the monthly top-gainer wasESPN Radio, which grew active sessions 110 percent. The largest August-to-September percentage drop-off is attributed to New York Public Radio (September tracked at 84% of August).

The long-term historical trend of the top five leaders (see chart below) shows Pandora’s dramatic climb over the past four years. That trendline also illustrates summertime dips in listening that occurred in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Year-over-year, we see 19% growth in cumulative listening, gauged by Average Active Sessions. Both NPR (133%) and Univision (104%) more than doubled listening from September 2012. Pandora showed an 18-percent improvement from September 2012, by adding 232,000 sessions. Most of the other top-20 participants experienced year-over-year gains, but Cox and New York Public Radio each dropped in listening by single percentage points.

The following chart illustrates cumulative year-over-year listening growth, with the top five leaders called out.

Here is the Top 20 domestic list from Triton Digital, organized by Average Active Sessions, Domestic streams from 6:00am to midnight.

Domestic market leader Pandora does not appear in the international All Streams Ranker. At the top of that cohort is Clear Channel, which dropped six percent month-over-month, with AAS reducing by 14,630 sessions:

Music services not boarding the early Christmas train, but maybe they should

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 1:10pm

Tom Taylor notes in his morning newsletter that all-Christmas radio is breaking out early on the broadcast side. Taylor’s interpretation: “Most are an attempt to lay claim to the local market’s Christmas image -- even if it irritates regular listeners.”

Local broadcasters walk on a thin November ledge between pushing Christmas upon listeners too soon, and attracting Black Friday ad dollars before it’s too late. Most online music services don’t have a sufficient local sales effort to worry about that conundrum, Pandora being the exception.

But a close look at activity in several music services this morning offers indications that users might be swinging into the holiday mood sooner than their in-house programming departments. Holiday listening stations don’t usually appear in the genre lists of music services this early in November, and that trend is born out. The following services lack a Christmas or Holiday preset in their “stations” lineups: iTunes Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Slacker (even as a sub-genre of Christian).

Interestingly, user-generated shows a Christmas tag fairly high up the genre list (Android app), and digging into the details on the website shows over 300 user-created Christmas playlists, dozens of them created in the last few days. Creator comments reveal an eager early-season jubilance: “The jolliest time of year is back!” Some of these playlists were assembled in mid-October, indicating some degree of appetite for the Christmas spirit even sooner than broadcast radio is willing to bet on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio is displaying a “Holiday” channel preset this morning in the Live Radio section. Some of the listed stations are pureplays, not live, but the interesting point is user comments -- many listeners are happy to find the early dose of Christmas tunes. “Start super-duper early! Why not?”

Note to Apple, Pandora, Rhapsody et al: The Christmas train might be leaving earlier than you think. When you have an unlimited programming slate, it makes sense to claim the space early.

RAIN Weekend Perspective: Week of Oct. 28 - Nov. 1

Friday, November 1, 2013 - 4:30pm

RAIN’s Weekend Perspective summarizes the week’s important events for a weekend catch-up, and revives your blasted synapses for coming week.


The Echo Nest partners with Getty Images: Music services that use The Echo Nest’s intelligence technology will be able to enhance their album art with artist and band photos. [READ]

Spotify partners with Tango Messenger: The alliance lets Tango instant message users to include 30-second Spotify music clips. You might not be familiar with Tango, but it’s a bigger service than Spotify. [READ


TuneIn reaches 100,000 radio stations: The TuneIn aggregation platform has aggregated up a storm: “The most radio stations ever in one place,” according to the press release. [READ]

Rhapsody introduces new features: RAIN reviews important additions to the Rhapsody music experience. [READ

SoundCloud reaches 250-million listeners: Take that, Pandora, as SoundCloud’s new emphasis on uninterrupted listening is bringing in new users. SoundCloud is now chasing YouTube’s 1-billion users. [READ

Pandora releases Android tablet app: RAIN reviews the essential features that exist in the new version across all devices. [READ

iHeartRadio updates features: The Clear Channel-owned platform gets into concierge-style programming, similar to Songza and Slacker, but with tongue in cheek. [READ


Edison Research videos show a “barrage of new” in connected cars: Seeking insight to how new-car owners are coping with modern infotainment systems built into digital dashboards, Edison Research produced video interviews with recent car buyers. RAIN interviewed president Larry Rosin. [READ]

Survey/Interview - iTunes Radio little threat to Pandora: Investment firm Canaccord Genuity surveyed Pandora users who have tried iTunes Radio, to get a picture of its existential threat to Pandora. RAIN interviewed the study’s author. [READ]


Swedish musicians threaten to sue labels over Spotify distribution: The musicians' argument is less with Spotify than with labels, and how Spotify revenue is shared with artists by those labels. RAIN untangles it. [READ]

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